Jenny Land: Dallas' Non-Toxic Mosquito Hunter

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

Somehow a mosquito has sneaked into Jenny Land's home. This shouldn't have happened. Land sprayed garlic in her backyard and hired a solar-powered pest company to treat her lawn with all-natural essential oils. Before mosquito season began, she was placing larvicide around her home and her neighborhood. She always offers guests two brands of natural bug repellant. And yet, there it is, lurking.

She jumps to swat it outside. "I don't want you to get bit," she says.

Years ago, Land, now 41, was spending the summer in Austin before her senior year of college when she came down with Lyme disease. She eventually recovered, and moved to New York to become a writer. Then she relapsed. Worse, she developed liver problems from the same drugs that had kept her healthy. "I learned the very lesson that I'm talking about with the West Nile," she says. "I'm taking all these antibiotics, and there's side effects to those things. They're important and they're useful but they have to be used cautiously and in a targeted way."

She moved back to Dallas, where she grew up, and began a long, slow recovery. Then West Nile Virus struck the city.

City Hall sprayed the city with insecticides, even with mounting evidence that spraying harms humans and the environment more than it curbs West Nile. Land teamed up with a friend, Patricia Kobes, starting a loosely organized group called Citizens for Safer Mosquito Control. They hired entomology experts and arranged meetings with city officials for the experts to make their case to back off on adulticides.

The city eventually agreed to only spray for positive pools, a compromise of sorts. Figuring her work was done, Land disbanded her efforts until 2012, when a bad West Nile season struck again. This time, the response was more aggressive. Dallas County used planes to blanket the area with adulticides. Land went back to work, teaming up with Brandon and Susan Pollard of the Texas Honeybee Guild to get local foodies involved in the activism and speak out online and in public meetings. Most recently, Land arranged another panel for county officials, again educating them on the benefits of a larvicide-first approach. At Land's request, Harvard public health professor Dr. David Bellinger and Cornell professor Dr. David Pimentel both agreed to participate.

The county's response has been slow. Last year, Health Director Zach Thompson offered hesitant support for Land and the other activists. "I have talked to Jennifer Land, and they have some great ideas," Thompson told us last year.

Land's approach to activism is diplomatic. She's slow to criticize the officials and knows it could take years of building public support and gaining officials' trust before seeing results. "A lot of times, you hear around these issues, 'Oh it's just a bunch of environmentalists again," she says. "I consider myself a public health advocate."

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn